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The Gentleman’s Agreement That Could Break Apart Nigeria.

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The Gentleman’s Agreement That Could Break Apart Nigeria.

By Max Siollun.

For the second time in seven years, the political stability of Africa’s most populous nation hinges on the health of one man. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari is once again in Britain for medical treatment because of an undisclosed illness. He was there for almost two months earlier this year, and in June 2016 he spent nearly two weeks abroad being treated for an ear infection. In the past month, he missed three straight cabinet meetings due to sickness, and perhaps more tellingly for a devout Muslim, he missed Friday mosque prayers in Abuja, where he usually attends without fail.

Buhari’s unwillingness to disclose the nature or extent of his illness fuels rumors that he is terminally ill or, periodically, that he has already died. Last month, Garba Shehu, a spokesman for the president, was forced to issue a series of tweets denying that anything unpleasant happened to the president. He added that reports of Buhari’s ill health are “plain lies spread by vested interests to create panic.” Buhari’s wife recently tweetedthat his health is “not as bad as it’s being perceived.”

Regardless of the severity of his illness, Buhari’s extended absence risks igniting an ugly power struggle that would threaten not just the political fortunes of his ruling party but also a long observed gentleman’s agreement that has been critical to maintaining the stability of the country.

The unwritten power-sharing agreement obliges the country’s major parties to alternate the presidency between northern and southern officeholders every eight years. It was consolidated during Nigeria’s first two democratic transfers of power — in 1999 and 2007 — and it alleviated the southern secessionist pressures that had festered under decades of military rule by dictators from the north. For a time, this mechanism for alternating power helped keep the peace in a country with hundreds of different ethnic groups and more than 500 different languages. But it was never intended to be permanent, and as Buhari’s illness demonstrates, it has increasingly become a source of tension rather than consensus.

If Buhari, a northerner, doesn’t finish his term of office, and power passes to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, a Christian from the south, it will be the second time in seven years that the north’s “turn” in the presidency has been cut short. In late 2009, then-President Umaru Yar’Adua, who like Buhari was a Muslim from the north, traveled abroad for treatment for an undisclosed illness. When Yar’Adua died in office the following year, his southern Christian vice president, Goodluck Jonathan, succeeded him, setting the stage for an acrimonious split within the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) over whether Jonathan should merely finish out Yar’Adua’s term or run to retain the office in the 2011 election.

In the end, Jonathan ran and won in 2011. But not before 800 people were killed in riots in the north after the PDP allowed Jonathan to contest the election. The anti-Jonathan faction later resigned in protest and defected to the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) party. Buhari led the APC to victory over the PDP in 2015.

An eerily similar scenario is now playing out in Buhari’s APC party. If Buhari dies, resigns, or is declared medically incapacitated by the cabinet, it would likely ignite a similar struggle within the APC over whether Vice President Osinbajo should permanently succeed him as president. A group of prominent northerners has already stated that Osinbajo should serve merely as an interim president and that he cannot replace Buhari on the ticket in the 2019 presidential election. Should Osinbajo succeed Buhari, win the 2019 election, and serve a full term, a Christian southerner will have been president for 18 of the 24 years since Nigeria transitioned to democracy in 1999.

There is a chance that APC leaders will convince — or force — Osinbajo to stand down in favor of another Muslim candidate from the north. But sidelining Osinbajo would pose other sectarian risks. He was chosen as Buhari’s running mate in part to counter southern accusations that the APC is a Muslim party. And although he is seen as a technocrat, Osinbajo is a powerful political force in his own right — too powerful, perhaps, to be sidelined in 2019 without alienating millions of voters. He is a pastor in the country’s largest evangelical church, which has some 6 million members, and his wife is the granddaughter of Obafemi Awolowo, one of Nigeria’s early independence politicians who is beloved in southwest Nigeria.

Yet if the north’s “turn” in power is interrupted again, it will further alienate the region — already home to the bloody Boko Haram insurgency, which has thrived in part because of government neglect — and make north-south cooperation on security, development, and a host of other critical issues more difficult. It could easily lead to another round of deadly riots, as it did in 2011. But there is a way out.

Nigeria should abandon the convention of north-south presidential power rotation now that it has outlived its purpose. At the same time, it should deepen power sharing in state and local governments, which have steadily gained influence relative to the national government since 1999. Many of the country’s 36 states and 774 local governments already practice some form of power rotation among politicians from different ethnic, religious, and geographic groups. The key will be to frame the abolition of power rotation at the presidential level as an opportunity to strengthen these norms at the state and local levels — not a chance to terminate them everywhere at once.

The reality is that most Nigerians experience government at the local level anyway. Regardless of whether Buhari or Osinbajo is in the presidential palace, state and local officials have the most purchase on the lives of ordinary citizens. Letting go of a dangerous convention at the national level while devolving more power to inclusive governance structures at the local level offers a way out of the current impasse.

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Opinion

Lagos #EndSARS report and FG’s response

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By Ehichioya Ezomon

Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, is a stickler for his beliefs, who doesn’t shirk his responsibility of promoting and defending the interests of the government and all its organs.
Once he takes a position on any issue or situation, no matter how unsavoury, he maintains it to the end, and leaves no inch of space for his critics or traducers to manoeuvre out of a logjam.
He’s mastered the art of trolling, and labelling the news media, especially some global and online media, as propagators of “fake news” that’s held the social media in a vice grip.
And Alhaji Mohammed was in his elements in the past week following a leak of the yet-to-be-studied-and-sanctioned report on the Lagos #EndSARS Judicial Panel of Inquiry.
He slammed CNN that he says committed a double faux pas by “relying on unverified social media stories and videos to carry out an investigation of the Oct. 20th, 2020, incident at Lekki,” and “rushing to the air to celebrate an unsigned and unverified report…,” and a section of the Nigerian media for joining “the lynch mob.”
Certainly, the release of the report puts wind to the sails of the civil society organisations, the arrowheads of the nationwide protests over indiscriminate police brutality of Nigerians.
Daily, members of the dreaded State Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), an arm of the Nigeria Police, singled out youths to harass, molest, detain, maim or kill on mostly flimsy and trumped-up allegations.
Only a few of the SARS cases ended up in the courts, but majority was settled with brute force in their dungeons, leaving survivals with bruises, broken bones, lost eyes or limbs, and extortion of millions in local and foreign currencies from the victims or their relations.
So, the call to arm, to stop the notorious and dehumanising acts of the police, gave birth to the #EndSARS movement that gathered steam across Nigeria in mid October 2020.
The weeks-long protests therefrom culminated in the reported military shooting and killing of unspecified number of the protesters at the Lekki Tollgate in Lagos on October 20.
The global outrage over the shooting, the crackdown on protesters, and protesters’ looting and destruction of property, and attacks on security operatives resulted in President Muhammadu Buhari’s order for a thorough probe by state governments.
As Lagos is the epicentre of anything happening in Nigeria – indeed it borne the brunt of the protests and their aftermaths – all eyes were on the Judicial Panel of Inquiry instituted by the Lagos State government of Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu.
Named the ‘Lagos State Panel of Inquiry on Restitution of Victims of SARS Abuses and Other Related Matters and Lekki Toll Gate Shooting,’ the panel, on November 22, 2021, turned in its report of two documents – a consolidated report on cases of police brutality and another on the Lekki shooting.
Governor Sanwo-Olu thereafter set up a four-man committee to examine the documents within two weeks and “bring forward the White Paper” to be considered by the state executive council.
But hours later, a version of the 309-page documents appeared in the media, hollering that the report “corroborated” what a critical section of the society had made of the Lekki shooting as a “massacre” of defenceless Nigerians protesting police brutality.
The report of the panel concludes that the “killing of unarmed protesters by soldiers on October 20, 2020, could be described in the context of a ‘massacre’,” thus eliciting mixed reactions.
As the pro-protesters rolled out the drums in celebration of the report for “corroborating our position ab initio,” the government has spotted “errors” in the panel’s work, particularly the phrasal depiction of the Lekki shooting as a “massacre in context.”
That, and several aspects give Mohammed the leeway to lampoon the report as “simply a rehash of the unverified fake news that has been playing on social media since the incident of Oct. 20th 2020.”
Unlike past panel reports, Mohammed says the Lagos#EndSARS report is “riddled with so many errors, inconsistencies, discrepancies, speculations, innuendoes, omissions and conclusions that are not supported by evidence.”
At a press conference in Abuja on November 23, the Minister listed such anomalies to include:
“That the Judicial Panel concocts a “massacre in context” as a euphemism for “massacre,” whereas a massacre is a massacre.
The panel throws away the testimony of ballistic experts, who testified before it. The panel is silent on the family members of those reportedly killed, merely insinuating they were afraid to testify. That a man, who reported seeing the lifeless body of his brother, himself ended up on the list of the panel’s deceased persons. The panel lists fictitious names of some casualties as numbers 3 (Jide), 42 (Tola) and 43 (Wisdom). The report doesn’t mention the cases of brutally-murdered police personnel or the destruction of police stations, vehicles, etc. The report doesn’t make recommendations for innocent victims killed, nor innocent people whose businesses were attacked and destroyed in Lagos.
Noting that the panel was “too busy looking for evidence to support its conclusion of ‘massacre in context,'” Mohammed declares: “It is clear, from the ongoing, that the report of the panel in circulation cannot be relied upon because its authenticity is in doubt.
“Besides, the Lagos State Government, being the convening authority, has yet to release any official report to the public. Neither has the panel done so… It is basic knowledge that the report of such a panel is of no force until the convening authority issues a White Paper and Gazette on it.
“It is therefore too premature for any person or entity to seek to castigate the Federal Government and its agencies or officials based on such an unofficial and unvalidated report.”
Love or hate him, discerning minds will agree with Mohammed’s summation of the report of the Judicial Panel, especially on the alleged military “massacre” of protesters at the Lekki Tollgate that overshadowed the angst over police brutality of Nigerians.
The panel was expected to produce an impeachable and irrefutable evidence of the shooting incident that reportedly claimed scores of lives, but which the government and military have refuted.
Perhaps, the nearest the panel got to validating the “mass murder” of Nigerians at the Lekki Tollgate is its conclusion of a “massacre in context,” whatever that means in an investigative report.
That unexplained “massacre in context” got many scratching their heads, as to the diligence of the judicial panel that awarded millions in compensation to victims of police brutality, but none to security personnel that were victims of the protests, and the people and institutions whose property were destroyed in the process.
Hence the controversy trailing the report, and allegations of fresh threats, and attacks on some leaders and backers of the protests are a gift of some sorts to the government and Lai Mohammed.

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Opinion

Anambra 2021: Let APC, Uba petitions be

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By Ehichioya Ezomon

Before Anambra 2021, previous governorship elections in the state since 1999 had only two formidable political parties battling for control of power, but the November 6 and 9, 2021, poll showcased four parties scheming for the prime position.
While the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) needed a win to retain the state it has ruled for 15 years, and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) a return to power that’s cut short in 2006; the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Young Progressives Party (YPP) wanted a foothold in Anambra for the first time.
Each of the parties had a burden to discharge, with the poll serving as a referendum on the ruling APGA at the state level and the APC at the national stage, and a test case for the PDP and YPP.
As the APGA and APC were judged on the achievements of the eight-year government of outgoing Governor Willie Obiano, and the six-year administration of President Mohammadu Buhari; the PDP and YPP were tested on their viability to take over power at the federal and local levels, respectively.
Despite the fears that insecurity could mar the process, as witnessed pre-Election Day, the franchise, measured against past exercises, came out reasonably free, fair and credible. And the credit goes to all the stakeholders in the electoral management.
From the results collated by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Charles Soludo of the APGA polled 112,229 votes; Chief Valentine Ozoigbo (PDP) scored 53,807 votes; Senator Andy Uba (APC) received 43,285; while Senator Ifeanyi Ubah (YPP) garnered 21,261 votes to rank first, second, third and fourth, accordingly, at the poll that’s initially inconclusive.
The margin of lead of 58,422 votes, and the highest scores in 19 of the 21 local governments satisfied the constitutional provisions for INEC to declare Prof. Soludo as winner and Governor-elect, and subsequently issued him, along with his Deputy Governor-elect, Dr Onyeka Ibezim, a Certificate of Return for his victory.
But as Prof. Soludo commences observing the countdown to the March 2022 takeover of power from Governor Obiano for his first term in office till 2026, he’s cautioned to apply the breaks.
Not so fast, say the APC and Senator Uba, who contend that the election, widely adjudged as passing the credibility test, was fraudulently conducted to favour the APGA and Prof. Soludo.
They averred to have facts to puncture what INEC has declared, which said facts they’re willing to place before the Election Petitions Tribunal, and possibly the Appeal Court and Supreme Court.
But the APC and Senator Uba are facing fierce criticisms and opposition within and outside the party, with pressure mounting on them to shelve the court process and accept defeat.
All “interventionists” in the Anambra election follow the same or similar train of argument, urging that the APC and Senator Uba’s attainment of the third position at the poll was an unprecedented feat worth celebrating by the party members.
However, the clamour for the APC and Senator Uba to drop their legal redress is verging on blackmail, with some claiming that the Anambra people “will hate Senator Uba more” for defying President Muhammadu Buhari’s congratulation of Prof. Soludo.
The don’t-challenge-the-election-outcome crowd seems to suggest that were the APC and Senator Uba to triumph in the courts, President Buhari would refuse to accept Uba as Governor-elect!
What an illogical spin! Because the election is perceived as free, fair and credible, any aggrieved political party or candidate, no matter the facts at their disposal, shouldn’t contest the poll in the courts!
While politicians often claim that elections they lose are rigged against them, the public shouldn’t view any challenge to even remotely credible polls as an affront to the people’s mandate.
This is the scenario that’s dogged the APC and Senator Uba, with even high-profile members of the party not prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt in their claim of fraud at the poll.
A major counter to APC’s averment is that Senator Uba fell behind the purported 230,201 votes cast by party members at the APC primaries, to assume the candidate in the November balloting.
Indeed, where did the 348,490 accredited APC members, or the 230,201 members that “voted” for Senator Uba at the primaries go to on Election Day, that he received only 43,285 votes?
The next puzzle is that, the 348,490 accredited APC members at the primaries that returned Senator Uba as candidate exceeded, by 95,102, the 253,388 accredited Anambra voters in November.
The arithmetic is simple. If the 348,490 APC members at the primaries, the 230,201 members that voted to crown Senator Uba as the APC candidate, or half of either figures had showed up for the APC on Election Day, Senator Uba would’ve received more votes than the 112,229 votes recorded by Prof. Soludo, and be declared as the Governor-elect of Anambra.
Obviously, the above calculations, and permutations informed the clamour for the APC and Senator Uba to toe the path of honour and acknowledge their resounding defeat at the election.
That said, it’s the right of the APC and Senator Uba to seek redress in the courts if they felt they’re robbed of victory at the poll they didn’t register any win in the 21 local governments of Anambra.
At a meeting of APC leaders in Akwa, the capital city of Anambra, the state party chairman, Chief Basil Ejidike, and Senator Uba were empathic that the election was fraudulently conducted, and that they’d take legal action to remedy the alleged malfeasance.
Ejidike said: “We are heading to court. APGA and INEC are aware that they compromised during the election and we have evidences to challenge INEC’s declaration in the court of law.
“Ndi Anambra and the world at large would bear testimony to the fact that, on the eve of the election, the outgoing Governor Obiano administration had, through its Commissioner for Information and Public Enlightenment, Mr. C. Don Adinuba, told everyone that the APC had written results of 10 Local Government Areas.
“Unknown to us, however, that false alarm was aimed at deflecting attention from the manipulation of the BVAS machine by APGA and a top official of INEC – a fact which a national newspaper had, weeks earlier, drawn attention to.”
In affirmation of that stance, Senator Uba said: “We will be heading to court with the discoveries we have, which show that the declaration of Soludo as the Governor-elect is faulty.
“As governor, I was removed, after 17 days of being sworn-in, by (a ruling of) the Supreme Court of Nigeria and I did not die. So, the current development won’t hurt me… This, I can assure you.”
So, let the APC and Senator Uba present proofs of the alleged manipulation of the November 6 and 9 combined election to the Election Petitions Tribunal, for the legal fireworks to begin.
As Nigeria has, through the machination of politicians, ceded the final say on elections to the courts, we should salute the APC and Senator Uba for ventilating their grievances in the courts, and refrain from prejudging the outcome of the proposed writ.

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Opinion

A Testimonial to Grit and Resilience

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By Nneka Okoli

On Wednesday November 17, 2021, *Dr. Ifeoma Bibiana Okoli,* will join hundreds of other graduands that would be formally conferred with a doctorate degree at the convocation ceremony of Nigeria’s premier university, University of Ibadan.

Among those that will be conferred with the title of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree, Dr. Okoli will be standing taller than the rest because of her *unique achievement.*

Despite what many would ordinarily consider a disability, Dr. Ifeoma Okoli has proven that no physical disability can stop anyone from attaining one’s dreams or goals, if and only if one sets one’s mind to doing so.

*Though visually impaired, that is, blind,* Dr. Ifeoma Okoli has with a single-minded determination and resilience climbed from the lowest academic ladder to the highest academic ladder, a feat that even many who do not suffer such impairment cannot achieve.

This is, indeed, an achievement worth celebrating because Dr. Ifeoma Okoli has made history as the first visually impaired woman to earn a doctorate degree in Nigeria’s premier university, as well as the first visually impaired PhD degree holder in her home state, Anambra state.

This, there, calls for a huge “owambe” party.

But who is Dr. Ifeoma Bibiana Okoli?

Dr. Ifeoma  Okoli is the first child of Mr. Obianusi Vincent Okoli and Mrs. Ijeoma Beatrice Okoli both from Ezihu village, Igboukwu, in Aguata Local Government Area of Anambra State.

Dr. Ifeoma spent most of her years in Abakaliki where her parents lived and worked.

Her life took a strange twist in 1985 when she was forced to drop out of school at the commencement of her final examination in secondary school. 

Dr. Ifeoma had been battling with failing eyesight due to a degenerative eye disease known as Retinitis Pigmentosa.

As expected, her parents took her to several eye clinics in quest for a remedy, but unfortunately none was found.

While writing her final papers, she realized that she had almost completely lost her sight.

One can imagine how devastating this experience must have been for a young girl who not only loved education but had been promised by her parents to train her up to the university level.

The loss of her eyesight seemed like the end of a dream.

After the initial phase of non-acceptance, sorrow and pain, Dr. Ifeoma Okoli, through the assistance of a cloistered nun enrolled at St. Joseph Rehabilitation Center for the Blind, Obudu, Cross River State.

There she acquired the requisite skills that will enable her pursue her academic dreams.

Armed with this skill, Dr. Ifeoma Okoli resolved to pursue her academic studies to the highest possible level.

This resolve is what is being celebrated as she is conferred with a doctorate degree in Special Education.

Dr. Okoli’s achievement may be seen by many as nothing short of a miracle, and indeed, it is a miracle.

But it is also a story of the enormous human capacity or potentials which God has lavishly endowed every one of us with.

When called forth, these potentials can propel one to the highest pinnacle of success.

Dr. Okoli’s achievement is a proof that one is capable of succeeding despite the oddities of life.

Her success validates the statement that noting is impossible for those who dare to dream and believe.

Her story and success is a signpost for all whose circumstances in life may seem unfavorable.

But Dr. Ifeoma’s success would not have been possible without the generous support of her family, friends, colleagues, teachers, and all those who believed in her dream and who journeyed alongside with her.

This goes to show that we do need others to succeed.

Her success is, therefore, our success.

And for this reason we should roll out the drums to pop bottles of wine to celebrate the success of our sister.

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